- Davos 2016 - A World Without Work?
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Welcome to NHK TV session, I am Hiroko Kuniya. Panel introduction
This session is titled a world without work. Oxford university study concludes that 47% of US jobs could potentially be replaced by machines within 10-20 years. There is a lot of debate about the impact of technology on work.
I would like to introduce two perspectives.
1. Increased productivity: the road to paradise is beginning to look very much the road to hell - The Club of Rome (1997)
2. 1930. John Maynard Keynes. Man will be faced with the question of how to use his leisure time. George: How far have we approached closed to the mind of the human being?Two perspectives: AI is already very successful and applied in wide variety of industries. These are what we call narrow AI - they can excel humans in narrow tasks but cannot be general purpose. In narrow AI we have made great progress.
We are working on general AI. Building machines in a very flexible way. The basic premise is that the brain can be understood. We are far away from human level intelligence. It is hard to predict how long it will take. Considering the investments going into it, it is not a question of whether, but when it will happen. So the key factor is prediction forwardOne of the things when we beat captcha, there are pattern recognitions. We could also predict the occluded portions of the characters. Being able to make predictions like that can be considered to be a hallmark of intelligence. Being able to mimic that in software is one of the key factors in general AI. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs recently did the Basic Income Creatathon. Why did the entrepreneurs start thinking we need basic income for everyone?A famous quote is "The goal of future is full unemployment so we can all play".But the basic rule of play is : everybody gets a chance. That is the impetus behind those conversations. Mr. Erik, in your book you say there will be few winners and many losers. What is happening in the labor market?It is true that technology is making the pie bigger, overall wealth is getting larger. It is possible some people will come out more ahead than others. Through history, it was mostly a case of a rising tide lifts all boats. In the past 20 years, we are seeing a great decoupling. But median income is lower now than it was late 1990s. This is because technological productivity can be biased towards high skill workers, capital over labor, superstars vs non-superstars. But ultimately it will depend on policies to shift that. Would you say this change is happening exponentially?Technological change is happening exponentially, the institutions are not changing nearly as fast. It is the responsibility of the rest of society to keep up. We don't want to hold back the technology. Mr. Pissarides: Global income is growing, but the share that labor gets is getting smaller and smallerThe pie is growing bigger, but there is no guarantee everyone will benefit equally due to market alone. We need to develop new systems and policies to help those the market would have left behind. Universal income is one of those ways.
I am not worried about job creation. There is the leisure industry, the hospitality industry. The question is how to create jobs for the majority of the labor force. Mr. Fujomori, how do you as a corporate executive feel about job security for the workers?We have about 100 facilities in the world. We have a lot of workers, but we also see machines coming in to raise productivity of the jobs. We are not worried about that, we can always retrain them to do higher value work so we can all prospet. We are worried about disruptive technologies and disruptive business models which will overtake us. The whole company could go down. So we want to think about competitive strategy. The business model will change dramatically with AI. Its a company's choice, but CEOs of industry has to think about those higher picture stuff. You could get into a vicious cycle. Automating, less workers, less demand, less purchasing power. Isn't it a big dilemma?It is a concern. The automation companies are also able to create new jobs. For Denmark, this agenda could be a help. When productivity rose, companies made more money, hired more people. Even if people were replaced, new businesses were created. The cycle was not a vicious one. This time do you predict a vicious cycle could occur?I think its a great question, something we need to take seriously. There is no guarantee we will continue as in the past or if we are at a turning point now. We have to encourage job creation, but there are some disturbing trends. As a whole in the US, there are fewer new companies, entrepreneurship is lower than it was 10-20 years ago.
The old jobs are being automated. Many existing tasks will be automated. I would like to see us working harder on developing those new jobs. Mr. Pissarides, where do you see areas of growth in the labor market?No doubt it will be in the service sector. Better skills in human communication will be important. I am in favor of some adjustments in our educational system which will give the labor force these skills. In Europe we are behind the US in this, startups are only now becoming a pattern here. Are the entrepreneurs going to be creating businesses which will absorb the displaced workers?Probably no, because machines will be able to do pretty much everything humans can do. Even better than us. Eventually, including communicating with humans. That doesn't mean we won't have meaningful activities. Our definition of what is meaningful has changed over time. Example, a career in TV. What will change, is our self worth will be detached from how we much money we make from our work. So we will detach our work and income?Yes. With basic income, you work because you like work and not because it is a necessity to earn a living. I think it might be useful to distinguish the far future from the near future. I agree with Dileep that eventually machines will be able to do all sorts of things. I don't think that is the immediate challenge right now. Right now narrow AI is much better at certain tasks - e.g. calculations. The immediate challenge is that certain categories of skills and jobs are becoming automated and therefore the people who make a living on those are having a harder time. Their wages and employment prospects are being pushed down while other types of skills are becoming much more valuable and you are getting superstar incomes at that level. We are seeing this divergence and growing inequality in part because of the technological forces at work. Someday we will reach the Star Trek economy but I dont think we are facing that right now. Can you give us examplesYes, it is more complicated. For the sake of brevity, many of the tasks are in the category that are very difficult for machines to do and for which there is big demand.
Also creative tasks. Creating arts, books, novels, scientific breakthroughs. Entrepreneurship is a creative task. Machines are very bad at complex, unstructured problem solving. We need to reinvent our education to teach interpersonal skills, creativity, things that machines are not good at. Machines can learn much faster than humansNot in those categories. It is very hard to teach a machine to be truly creative.Coming up with a new business idea, for example, is almost impossible for a machine to do. I can give some examples of demand and supply gap even today. We don't need as many people as today because of some jobs which can be automated. On the other side, the lack of talents in society like elderly care, like daycare, those care things have a big demand and supply gap.
If we know this era is coming. We have to think about the total social architecture, total system. The care jobs have to become better paid, and government has to think about it. 20 years ago, we will write something by long hand and hand it off to our secretary or assistant. It will emerge as a typed paper after a week. For alterations, photocopies you need to take a few more steps. Now all those jobs are gone.
At the same time, cleaners are still around. I am agreeing that governments should look 5 or 10 years ahead. Its a crucial question right now. Some of these investments will only see success after 5-10 years. Government can decide to hire more workers to adjust the gaps. To ease the gap, Denmark has adopted flex security. It is adjustable hiring and firing policy, good unemployment benefits, good training. How effective has that been for people?It has been a great success for many years. We pay quite a lot of money in taxation for this welfare system. How many years of unemployment benefits can you get?Depends on how long you have been on the labor market. Usually about 2-3 years benefits. I think it is crucial to focus more on education though. Many governments think that if they protect the jobs they are protecting the workers. That is not the case. They need to protect the worker's income and standard of living. Keynes suggested work sharing. What are effective policies that can enhance decent life?We are faced with a fundamental choice: do we want to protect the past from the future? Or do we want to protect the future from the past? It is good for jobs to be automated. We should not focus on protecting jobs which can be automated. We should focus on creating new types of jobs. More flexible work arrangements would help. If our living standards rise, we may choose to have more leisure. If the changes are so profound that people are not able to adjust to it, should we control the pace of the innovations?Probably not. We dont know the side effects, plus it is not easy. We are talking about a world with a lot more wealth and a lot less work. Shame on us if we say that is a bad thing. But we have to do it in a way that is fair to everybody. And shame on our politicians if they are not willing to say thatMost of the government today tends to block new things coming in. I suggest they should go the other way and accelerate the developments. But some experts say that people who can be hired for these new jobs are immune to unemployment to begin withTechnology can help retrain people. Every human has the capability to be creative. We are creative when our basic needs are met. We can give a future to everybody where their basic needs are met and they are free to be creative. And Denmark is leading the way in this. In Denmark we have a lot of regulation though. Talking about Uber, I am in favor of. But taxi companies ask how do you make sure Uber pay taxes. How can we make sure the new businesses, they can also be a part of the tax systemIn some countries, it is mostly a cash economy, where they don't pay taxes. But when they go with Uber, they actually have to pay taxes. So it is bringing it into the part of the economy where taxes are being paid. Protect taxi drivers, or you open up the economy to Ubers and create 10 times more jobs. AirBnb is a great success in Denmark. But hotels complain that it is unfair competition because they don't have to comply with the same regulations. Is it possible to have innovation which collaborates with humans to enhance those qualities where humans excelIt is a great thing to focus on. Machines can not just substitute for humans, they can also complement humans. Think of when airplanes where invented. Pilots were needed for airplanes. For example, using Google Glass for augmented reality - for plumbers, for nurses etc. the machine can augment the human's skills. Should we try to have policies lead towards that?Its difficult. We tax labor very heavily. Its a huge tax burden associated with labor. Government should probably do it differently.
At MIT, we have something called the inclusive innovation competition. Businesses and innovations that are using technology to create shared prosperity rather than narrow prosperity are rewarded. Switching from labor tax to consumption tax would be a good idea. Mr.Fujimori: You talk about deregulation. Other than that, what should corporations be thinking about in regards to employment?We have to do more retraining. We have to work with government to make it more adaptive to future trends. Erik: In your book, you talk about communities where people are working are much healthier. We have been talking about what is wrong with more wealth and less labor. This concerns me. Voltaire said "Work solves three ills. Boredom, vice and need". We have been focusing on the need. It also gives people meaning and keeps them out of trouble. As society exists now, majority of people are employed, minority are unemployed and thus feel left out and depressed. Socialization is a part of employment. If majority of people are not working, maybe the adverse effects of not having to work will go away. In Japan we are still not a diverse culture. If productivity goes much higher and anybody can do the work in say 60% of the time they can focus more on children, focus on social stuff they can do together. Maybe it would help Japan's declining population, so it may be a good thing. We have to think about sharing prosperity alsoAnd this is where government has a very active role to play. So I would ask: what is going to be determining whether or not we will have a world without work?Its not technology, its how we use it. We have more power to determine what our future is going to be and we should never forget that. Technology will increase productivity and give us fewer hours of work overall. But Denmark is showing the way: they have high job satisfaction, low unemployment and one of the fewest hours worked per week. Video outline created using VideoJots